Two years ago, the congressman who very likely would have headed up the powerful House Ways and Means Committee had Republicans retained the House was defeated. Clay Shaw, twenty-six year U.S. House Member from Florida’s 22nd District, lost a tight contest to Democrat Ron Klein. Now, the question in the Fort Lauderdale-Palm Beach district is can Allen West overturn Klein’s win of about 8000 votes out of more than 200,000 cast?
State, national, and district Republicans seem to think so. West, retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel with stints in Iraq and Afghanistan under his belt, has scored an early coup in wrapping up the GOP nomination. In just the last few weeks, two other prospective candidates ended their bids for the district. West is thus a cinch to become one of a handful of blacks carrying the GOP standard for Congress this fall. In recognition of his stature as a formidable candidate, the much-decorated veteran and scholar of military history has addressed the Republican Conference in the House and what he called a “very positive” meeting with Rep. Tom Cole (R.-Okla.), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.
“We have a strong veterans’ population in the 22nd and we tend to stick together,” West told me during a visit to Washington last week, “And they appreciate what I did” — a reference to one incident in which his rough handling of a prisoner resulted in gaining information that almost certainly saved American lives. (West, after his army retirement, went back to Afghanistan as an advisor to help train the Afghan army. He stayed over two years.) West also noted that in ’06, massive national press attention was focused on nine veterans who ran for Congress as Democrats and only three were elected: Pennsylvania Reps. Joseph Sestak and Patrick Murphy and Virginia Sen. Jim Webb. All were elected on platforms of strong opposition to the U.S. presence in Iraq.
Times change, of course, and under General David Petraeus, the U.S. surge in Iraq has dramatically changed the situation on the ground and in public opinion polls in the U.S. Accordingly, a veteran who is foursquare in favor of the U.S. action in Iraq looks pretty good as a candidate and there is even a Veterans for Victory Committee headed by retired U.S. Air Force medic Don Lester encouraging pro-Iraq veterans to run. And there is Allen West, who has never waivered in his strong stand in favor of the U.S. strike against Saddam and mission in Iraq.
But Iraq is not the lone issue in the 22nd or the lone arrow in the quiver of West, who has so fair raised more than $80,000 eight months before the fall campaign (“This business of spending $4 million isn’t what its cracked up to be — sometime you reach a point where voters get tired of candidates spending money”). The GOP hopeful recalled to me how criticism of Republican spending in Congress and the scandal involving Florida Republican Rep. Mark Foley (who represented the neighboring district to the 22nd) probably took its toll on Shaw. West takes a no-nonsense stand on congressional ethics as well as spending, saying he would have opposed the recent economic stimulus package that Democrat Klein voted for because “what you need for stimulus is less spending by government and lower taxes, period.” West also looks forward to debating his opponent on his vote in favor of the energy bill last year (“Still more waste!”) and his pro-abortion stand (West is proudly pro-life).
The GOP nominee-in-waiting talks on a weekly basis with former Rep. Shaw and many of the former congressman’s campaign team have signed up with West. Hayes Robertson, one of Shaw’s key operatives in his last campaign, had been campaign manager for West until his sudden death last year. “And I still feel it,” West told me, “He helped get the campaign to where it is now. Now I’m going to finish the job and win it for Hayes.”
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